Eleven years ago, a man named Alfred A. Gutierrez was convicted of killing a woman with whom he had had a child. The woman was strangled after a heated exchange between the two over custody of their 3-year-old son.
Eleven days after the woman was killed-in the same area of La Puente, California-an individual was shot in a drive-by shooting. A police officer thought he saw Gutierrez do the deed. Gutierrez was convicted of both murder charges and sentenced to death.
Pepperdine Professor Harry Caldwell, who routinely represents condemned prisoners in the appeals of their death sentences, took on the Gutierrez case in July 2002. Following a lengthy and tedious process called "correcting and augmenting the record," Caldwell wrote an opening brief of more than 300 pages. The attorney general sent a response brief, and Caldwell filed his rebuttal brief.
Throughout the two and a half years of briefing, Caldwell maintained that there were significant errors in Gutierrez's trial. On December 5, 2008, Caldwell argued the case before the California Supreme Court, citing the inaccuracies, and asked the court to grant Gutierrez a new trial.
The court now has three to four months to make a decision.
Caldwell has already invested five years in this case, but he reflects on the time cheerfully. "I have been doing death penalty cases for the past 15 years, and I get a lot out of the work, both professionally and personally," he says. "This work helps keep me abreast of developments in the area in which I teach [Criminal Law and Criminal Procedure]."
"More importantly, I am performing a professional obligation in representing people who desperately need representation," he explains.
A longtime favorite professor with students, Caldwell brings his experience (he was previously a trial prosecutor in Santa Barbara and Riverside counties) and his extensive knowledge of trial practice into the classroom. He also uses these skills when coaching the school's highly successful interschool trial teams.
Despite his workload of teaching, coaching, and writing books on trial advocacy, Caldwell feels compelled to lend his expertise to those facing death sentences and sees himself as an advocate for Gutierrez. "It stems from personal conviction that the death penalty is wrong," says Caldwell.
Caldwell's belief that life is sacred motivates him to continue the work. While the verdict in Gutierrez case remains unseen, there is hope that he will be granted a new, fair trial and justice will be served.
by Emily DiFrisco